Archives for April 2015

Go Play. Seriously.


Here it is: your permission to take a day off.

Stay in your pjs and binge-watch Game of Thrones or make chocolate cookies and eat two (at least).  Finish a book, or start one. Walk the dog or take a nap, ride a bike or shop for new shoes. Set the table with a fancy cloth and candlesticks, plant petunias in the yard, or practice your putting.

Yeah, I know. Who am I to say it’s okay to play instead of work?

Think of it this way: I’m not really the one giving you permission. YOU have to do that.

But if you have trouble letting go of whatever you normally do from 9 to 5, I’m here to cheer you on, because I have the same problem.

Yet we’ve gotta play sometimes. Too much work doesn’t light any sparks under your writing. In fact, fatigue and stress and pressure throw a bucket of cold water on inspiration, and it melts away, Wicked Witch-like, and disappears.

Right now, I’m in a good spot. I’ve got work to do, but I’m ahead of schedule, so I took a play date.  I spent a few hours sewing, and I made the little cupcake pincushion you see here. It’s based on this one, created by Vanessa Goertzen, a quilter and fabric designer who blogs at Lella Boutique.

(Unfortunately, no one replied when I wrote to ask if there was a pattern, so I improvised. I used cardboard for the base and a fabric cylinder for the body. Pink rickrack trim and felt flowers stand in for icing and decorations.)

It’s not perfect; actually it’s kinda lopsided, like most of my real cakes. But I loved the fabric colors (it’s Moda’s Into the Woods), and I had fun making it.

I admit, most of the time, I feel guilty about playing, as if the only good day, the only valuable day, is one that results in a paycheck.

But that’s soooo not true. I’m learning that if you want to live a creative life, you have to let yourself off the hook sometimes. Making a pie or making a pincushion, stringing beads or baking bread are all worthy pursuits that can re-fuel your spirit and help you become more productive in the long run.



Author Meg Medina’s Writing Prompts


Latina author Meg Medina had some of the audience at the recent Atlanta SCBWI conference in tears. The waterworks started when she gave us prompts to create characters for our children’s stories.

Tuck a tissue in your pocket and try one of these. Just be really, really honest, because, as Meg said, because growing up is tough, and writers need to tell the truth.

Ready? Finish this sentence: “I come from….”

To get you started, I’ll tell you where I come from. “I come from dirt-poor grandparents who lived in Alabama and dropped out of school around the fifth grade to help farm the family land. I come from a father who was the first person in his family to graduate from college (he could afford it only because of the GI Bill).”

Here’s another prompt:  “And so, we meet again…’

One woman in our group completed that one with a paragraph about a man who sped through her neighborhood every night on his way home from work. While he barreled past little kids and startled dogs and stroller-pushing moms, he blasted his horn, non-stop. Then he’d screech to a stop in his carport, stomp inside, and slam the door behind him. She said everybody called him “The Blower.” While you wouldn’t make an adult the focus of a kids’ book, wouldn’t this guy make a fascinating character?

One more. Write your autobiography in just six words. When we did this exercise, many of the writers in the room came up with lovely, even lyrical lines.

Not me. I remembered a tough patch I’d gone through a few years ago, and I decided to look into my own darkness. My six words were, “Her broken pieces are still holding.”

Once I showed some vulnerability, others did, too. More than a few of us had damp eyes by the end of Meg’s talk, which was a good thing, because it meant we were digging deep into our personal truths.

Whether you’re writing about sunny times or desperate ones, Meg says we’re still every age we ever were. The preschooler, the adolescent, the young adult: they’re all still alive in our heads and hearts. Use her prompts to nudge or jolt your memories. Reach deep inside to find emotional connections that will grab your readers.




Writing Characters for Your Novel


What a character.

We say that a lot here in the South, usually when we’re shaking our heads over some strange comment or behavior.

Right now, I’m faced with expanding some characters I’ve already written about. The agent who’s agreed to represent my middle grade novel wants another (let me pause here to take a deep breath) 10,000 words.

My entire manuscript is 25K, so he’s asking me to write the equivalent of another half a book.

That’s okay (even though it sounds daunting), because he tells me there’s a better chance of selling my story if it’s closer to the length of most mid-grade books. And besides, he’s not asking for a lot of new scenes or action; he just wants me to give the characters more time on stage.

So—how do you beef up your characters, and make them feel alive for your readers?

One way is by turning real life into art. Start by observing people around you.

Here’s an example. One Sunday afternoon, I noticed a striking woman in the grocery store. She wore a simple, black dress that fell to her calves, and her long, straight hair–which was also black– reached almost to her waist. She was pushing a buggy in the cereal aisle, checking out the Fruit Loops, when I noticed she had a pair of fuzzy, black bedroom scuffs on her feet.

She was probably in her 50s.

Until I got to the part about her slippers and age, you might have pictured her as a Goth.

But those shoes told me a lot. I know how it feels to wear high heels all day, and since it was lunchtime, I thought she’d probably just come from church. She may have stopped to pick up a few things and changed into scuffs because her feet hurt.

Maybe they hurt because she wears heels everyday to an office. Or maybe she’s not used to heels at all, and only wears them on Sundays.

Her black dress and long, unstyled hair also made me think she might attend a fundamentalist church.

It doesn’t really matter, because I’m writing fiction, and I can use details like those to flesh out my characters. You can, too; all you need is a good memory, or a pen and paper to jot down ideas for later.

Later I’ll share some prompts for writing memorable characters that I learned at a workshop given by award-winning Latina author Meg Medina. Stay tuned.